22 January 2006

VIIV, DRM, and Fair Use: the Big One

The ever-acute Doc Searls reports on the CES keynote from Intel CEO Paul Otellini. Given Searls' position as an alpha blogger, it was inevitable that this was a live, minute-by-minute blog - and yes, it did include the obligatory moan about the missing WiFi connection.

But what is really important about this posting is that it makes plain VIIV's role as the platform that broadcasters and music companies - with indispensable help from a willing Intel and Microsoft - will use in their latest attempt to take complete control of content.

I already knew in 2000 that all this was coming. I knew because Eben Moglen, the legal brains behind the free software movement, and an extremely wise, articulate and modest man, told me so when I was writing Rebel Code:

Let's think of the Net for a change as a collection of pipes and switches, rather than thinking of it as a thing or a space.

There's a lot of data moving through those pipes, and the switches determine who gets which data, and how much they have to pay for it downstream. And of course those switches are by and large what we think of as digital computers.

The basic media company theory at the opening of the twenty-first century is to create a leak-proof pipe all the way from production studio to eyeball and eardrum. The switch that most threatens that pipe is the one that at the end. If the switch closest to your eyeball and eardrum is under your complete technical control, the whole rest of the aqueduct can be as leak-proof as you like, and it won't do them any good. And the switch is under your control, of course, if the software is free software.

So for the great VIIV plan to work, free software has to be shut out from the equation. This means no DVDs, no DRM for GNU/Linux - for the simple reason that truly free software always gives you the possibility of evading the software controls that are in place.

And for those of you who say, well, provided we have our traditional fair use rights, what's the problem? - this is the problem. Draft US legislation would effectively freeze your rights to existing technologies: had this been the case in the past, you would not have fair rights to burn MP3s from your CDs, or even videotape TV programmes.

There is no halfway house in this coming war, no compromise position: either you hand carte blanche to the film and music industries to decide what you can do with the content you buy, or else you fight for the right to decide yourself.

This is the Big One.

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